Age of Great Inventions
The first transcontinental railroad is completed, as the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines join some 1,700 miles of track connecting to the eastern networks. Representatives of both railroads take turns driving the final golden spike into the ground during a ceremony at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory.
Aaron Montgomery Ward starts the world's first mail order catalog business, based in the midwestern railroad hub of Chicago. Ward aims to buy large quantities of merchandise, then sell and ship directly to rural customers without an intermediary.
Andrew Carnegie opens his first steel plant, the Edgar Thompson Works, in Braddock, Pennsylvania. His is one of the first American plants to make use of the Bessemer converter and open-hearth process in steel production. Both innovations drastically reduce the cost and time involved in producing steel from pig-iron and they help drive the explosive growth of the American steel industry in the Gilded Age.
Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone.
Thomas Edison opens his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
First Record Player
Thomas Edison invents the phonograph (the first record player).
First Light Bulb
Thomas Edison introduces the first practical (and therefore successful) incandescent light bulb and develops the necessary power lines and equipment to integrate it into a useable lighting system.
1880 Non Farmers
The U.S. Census reports that for the first time more than half the American workforce is engaged in non-farming jobs.1
Frederick Winslow Taylor, 25, begins his time studies of labor efficiency at Midvale Steel Company.
James Albert Bonsack patents his continuous process cigarette rolling machine, which produces 70,000 cigarettes over ten hours in its trial run.
Edison opens the first DC (direct current) electric power station on Pearl Street in Manhattan. Within five years, 120 more Edison power stations will open across the United States, delivering DC electricity to customers and dominating the energy market. But DC electricity can only be transmitted about a mile before it starts to lose power.
Railroad companies standardize time and carve America into the four time zones used to this day. Until now, local "sun" time was used as people traveled from place to place, but railroads need a uniform clock to create departure and arrival schedules.
Architects and builders perfect the use of the load-bearing steel skeleton in the construction of the prototypical skyscraper, the ten-story Home Insurance Building in Chicago.
Edward Bellamy publishes Looking Backward: 2000-1887, an early science fiction novel and tremendous bestseller. Bellamy's novel follows a young man who, after sleeping for 113 years, wakes up in the year 2000 to find America transformed into a perfect society, a utopia of material abundance and social harmony.
The first successful electric streetcar line is installed in Richmond, Virginia.
Nikola Tesla invents the first motor for transforming AC electrical power into mechanical energy.
Montgomery Ward Sales
Montgomery Ward reaches $1 million in sales for the year.
Motion Picture Projector
Edison invents the kinetoscope, an early motion picture projector—a "machine which does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear."
Hoping to demonstrate the danger of the AC (alternating current) electrical power championed by rival Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, the mangers of Edison General Electric (GE) arrange for a Westinghouse AC generator to be used in the first electrocution at a prison in Auburn, New York.
Herman Hollerith develops an electromagnetic tabulator that can read and analyze punch cards, the key to processing the vast amounts of information that the new large corporations need to handle. The punch card reader will be the first product of the company that becomes International Business Machines (IBM).
Chicago World’s Fair
The World's Columbian Exposition (also called The Chicago World's Fair) opens to fairgoers in Chicago, Illinois. Over the next five months, nearly 30 million visitors come to experience this celebration of American heritage and its dazzling display of technological progress.
Frederick Taylor publishes an article called "A Piece-rate System" and popularizes his idea of the "differential-rate" within the steel industry. The "differential-rate" is a backbreaking productivity quota-incentive system determined through supposedly scientific methods. Linking nearly impossible increases in worker output to wage increases that were rarely proportional, the "differential-rate" system was far more popular with managers than with their workmen.
The Westinghouse Company opens the first hydroelectric alternating current (AC) power station at Niagra Falls, providing ample industrial power to Buffalo (22 miles away) and confirming the superior potential of AC electrical power to Thomas Edison's DC (direct current). In contrast to DC power, AC electricity can be transmitted hundreds of miles without losing power. It ultimately triumphs in the "battle of currents" that takes place during this period.